Scotch and Tacos: A Winning Combo at El Paisa

After a recent dinner out left me unsatisfied (small plates — again), I pointed my car, as I often do, in the direction of Federal Boulevard, a slow but direct route from hipper zones to my southwest Denver neighborhood. Scotch whisky was on my mind, along with tacos (when are they not?). It was the birthday of a friend with whom I was unable to toast in person — a friend who counts Laphroiag single-malt whisky and El Taco de Mexico among life's greatest pleasures. El Tac (as he calls it) was blocks away, and in any case lacks a liquor license, so I pulled into Tacos El Paisa, on the northwest corner of the Sports Authority Field patchwork of parking lots.

I've visited El Paisa for lunch on several occasions, but never really paid attention to the back of the space, which hides a full bar. I knew not to expect Laphroiag, a super-smoky Islay Scotch that's hard to track down even in more upscale environs. Perhaps something blended — say, Dewar's or Johnny Walker — would do the trick, but fortunately, El Paisa proudly stocks Buchanan's twelve-year on its liquor shelves.

In his Ask a Mexican column, author Gustavo Arellano has this to say about Buchanan's:

Just like Cristal gets shout-outs from rappers, Buchanan's began getting referenced by singers of corridos last decade, especially of the narco variety. But while getting bottle service for Cristal lets everyone know that its drinker is a lover of a high life, any plebe who buys a round of bukanas for his compas is letting the bar know not to fuck with them.  
While I have no delusions about intimidating anyone with my presence at the bar or with my choice of beverage, I am intrigued with cultural tropes that evolve far beyond the original source. Think how different the scenes are between the dank, dark pub in Glasgow or Edinburgh where bearded redheads sip whiskey and the rowdy club in Tijuana or Los Angeles where vaqueros in pointed boots and starched shirts order rounds or bottles of "Bukanas."

It should also be noted that Buchanan's is not a bad tipple, especially for the price. And El Paisa dishes some fine tacos, too (along with plenty of other plated entrees), in a relaxing setting splashed with paint in a particular shade of blue-green that emanates a tranquil, underwater quality. 

So that was the scene: a little late in the evening for dinner, but with a dining room surprisingly full for so early in the week — and a solo waitress remaining cheerful and attentive despite hustling to satisfy every table. My Buchanan's arrived with an order of alambres, a three-meat combo studded with peppers and onions and bound together by a web of stringy cheese. Tacos and Scotch: Here's to birthdays and friends and unlikely pairings made possible by the good people of Federal Boulevard.

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Mark Antonation is the former Westword Food & Drink Editor. In 2018, he was named Outstanding Media Professional by the Colorado Restaurant Association; he's now with the Colorado Restaurant Foundation.
Contact: Mark Antonation